Leica CL vs M240 – 7 reasons why I prefer the CL

Leica CL vs M240 Review

Leica CL vs M240 – 7 Reasons why I prefer the CL

12 months on, here are my 7 reasons why I would still buy a Leica CL vs M240 camera. The Leica CL is an amazing little camera not to be overlooked! Accompanying YouTube video linked at the end.

leiac cl review vs m240

To recap my Leica CL purchase

After having now owned my Leica CL for over 12 months I thought I should post a follow up review. To recap, I bought the Leica CL just a backup Leica camera body for my Leica M240 (main camera). For Leica wedding photography in particular I needed the security of two Leica digital camera bodies. (I don’t include my Leica M8 in this as it has too many quirks and is too slow as a primary wedding camera). There was no real expectation for the little Leica CL as after all it wasn’t even a “proper camera”. Why? I was a true rangefinder nut and couldn’t even imagine using a different camera system. What I wasn’t expecting is the Leica CL replaced the Leica M240 as my main camera, for all my photography.

Leica CL Digital Camera Unboxing

Pros and cons of each camera system

After a good think I tried to pin point exactly why I like the Leica CL so much. I jotted some pros and cons of each camera on a piece of paper and came up with the following list. (* These features are important to me but your preferences may vary).

leica cl vs leica m240 - 13 reasons why I prefer the leica cl

7 Reasons to buy a Leica CL vs Leica M240

1. Exposure preview

Leica CL exposure preview via the EVF (electronic viewfinder) or LCD display – never accidentally over/ under expose a photo again!

2. Electronic viewfinder focusing

EVF focusing – gives the added benefit that unlike a traditional Leica M rangefinder camera focus will always be accurate. Leica M rangefinder cameras can easily mis-focus if the rangefinder is knocked out of alignment. A common issue with all Leica M cameras, both digital and film.

3. Leica focus peaking

Leica CL focus peaking – Allows you to critically focus every photo by rolling a top dial for a 2 step magnification. Never mis-focus a Leica photo again, even with a fast lens like the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1 or a long lens like the 135mm Elmar, or old Soviet lenses like a Jupiter-3.

4. Compact lightweight Leica

Compact lightweight high quality Leica setup with interchangeable lenses and the ability to mount Leica M lenses via the adapter (and most other lenses, Leica R and non-Leica brands).  The Leica CL is particularly small if used in conjunction with the Leica Elmarit 18mm f2.8 pancake lens.  This is my preferred Leica CL small setup for travel.

5. Improved dynamic range

Improved dynamic range compared to the Leica M 240 and other high end digital cameras. You no longer clip your highlights (or loose shadow detail).

6. Increased high ISO

The Leica CL high ISO capability is around 2 stops better than the Leica M240 based on 12 months plus experience with both cameras. With the Leica M Typ240 I experience banding in low light at ISO 3200 so use it at ISO 1600 maximum.  I’ve seen no banding issues at higher ISO with the Leica CL camera and ISO 6400 is fine for low light photography giving acceptable results. (The CL ISO will go higher but for my taste I try to cap it at ISO 6400).

7. Compose wider lenses without hotshoe viewfinder

Leica M cameras have pre-determined frame lines in the viewfinder, usually 28mm-135mm on later models.  If a lens is wider than 28mm an additional external hotshoe viewfinder is required to compose these wider lenses.  This adds both cost and bulk to the Leica M camera system.  (*You can use the digital Leica M LCD LiveView to view and compose lenses wider than 28mm but I would imagine photographers who buy a Leica M rangefinder camera don not take pictures via the LCD display!). The Leica CL EVF displays every lens without need of additional viewfinders making it an easier setup to use in that regard.

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+2 More advantages of the Leica CL

  1. Leica autofocus lenses – Unlike Leica M cameras the Leica CL can be operated with auto focus lenses. This is not something I thought about for my list above as I use manual focus Leica M lenses via an adapter on the Leica CL. For others this might be a key reason to buy the CL.
  2. Lower cost – The price of a new Leica CL is >£1K cheaper than a Leica M240. (Leica CL ~£2250 vs Leica M240 ~£3500 at the time of writing)(Price without lens).
leiac cl review - camera selfie

3 Facts as to why you may prefer the Leica M240

1. Full frame sensor

The biggest advantage of a Leica M camera (excluding the older Leica M8) is that Leica M cameras have 35mm full frame sensors.  The Leica CL has a 1.5x crop APS-C sensor.  What does that mean in real terms? 

Two key points. –

  1. A full frame sensor results in a greater shallow depth of field (DOF) vs. a crop sensor camera. Shallow DOF is often associated with more likeable images such as used for portrait photography. (As primarily a portrait photographer I would have expected to see an absence of this shallow DOF with the Leica CL but I haven’t. This may be due to the lenses I am using and my working distance from the subject).
  2. For wide angle photography a full frame camera sensor means that a 15mm lens is equal to a 15mm lens.  With the Leica CL 1.5x crop sensor any lens focal length is multiplied by the crop factor.  The 18mm Leica CL kit lens becomes closer to a 28mm lens in full frame terms for example.  If you enjoy ultra wide angle photography a crop sensor camera will not be for you as every wide lens is less wide on a crop body.
2. Increased battery capacity

The Leica M240 camera battery capacity is greater than that of a Leica CL.  The Leica M battery is larger in all dimensions than a CL battery. One Leica M 240 battery will normally last me most of a day whereas the Leica CL battery needs replacing much sooner (perhaps twice as fast).  Battery life is not a good reason to buy a camera though. By the ‘better’ camera and then invest in a few additional spare batteries if needed.

3. No viewfinder blackout moments

No viewfinder /LCD black-out. With a optical rangefinder camera like a Leica M you never lose sight of your subject. Even when you take photos you can still see through the camera. With the Leica CL the EVF blacks out briefly as you take a photo.

From experience this is unnerving especially during important moments such as during a Leica wedding photo shoot. I was panicking inside as I was not used to suddenly not knowing what I was missing. This is the same during a fast paced fashion shoot with a model. They changed their pose yet I don’t see it until the EVF ‘clears’ again after an image. I’ve got used to it but if you are used to a Leica M camera you will notice.

Leica M10 Camera vs CL

What about buying a Leica M10 camera instead?

The Leica M10 features will offer the following benefits over the Leica CL –
  1. Full frame sensor
  2. Similar high ISO capabilities of the Leica CL
  3. Similar high dynamic range of the Leica CL
  4. Better battery capacity than the Leica CL
  5. Slimmer than the Leica M240
But the Leica M10 still brings some of the Leica M camera limitations –
  1. Rangefinder camera with the risk of the rangefinder being knocked out of alignment giving inaccurate focusing and blurry images.
  2. No EVF exposure preview
  3. No focus peaking
  4. Fixed viewfinder frame lines so the need of external hotshoe viewfinders for use with lenses wider than 28mm
  5. Manual focus lenses only
  6. High Cost – Leica M cameras cost more than the CL. The Leica M10 specifically costs over twice as much as the Leica CL (~£5750 today)
  7. Slimmer than the Leica M240 but still bigger and heavier than a CL (Leica CL weight – 403g vs M10 – 660g ) (M240 – 680g)
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Or perhaps the DSLR-like mirrorless Leica SL?

A Leica SL is closer in design to a Leica CL and offers benefits such as –
  1. Full frame sensor
  2. Similar high ISO capabilities of the Leica CL
  3. Similar high dynamic range of the Leica CL
  4. Better battery capacity than the Leica CL
  5. EVF exposure preview
  6. EVF focus peaking
  7. Not a rangefinder so no rangefinder camera related issues
  8. Autofocus lenses
Why is the Leica CL better than Leica SL?
  1. The Leica SL is a bigger/ heavier camera body vs the CL (Leica CL weight – 403g vs SL – 847g)
  2. Leica SL lenses can be huge (and more like a DSLR)
  3. Cost – The Leica SL lists at almost twice the price of the CL (~£4400 today)

Leica CL vs M240 summary – Is full frame needed?

Since getting the Leica CL I had at no pointed missed using the full frame Leica M240. I did bring out the Leica M240 for some recent overseas model shoots to compare to the CL with fresh eyes. In Budapest I didn’t really notice the difference/ benefits of the full frame sensor. In Poland however I did enjoy the Leica M240 full frame sensor as saw a big difference. The M240 was capturing photos I had not created for some time. So what changed between Poland and Budapest? Answer – the choice of lenses used.

Lens choice is key to see the full frame benefits

M240 and CL in Budapest

In Budapest I was using the Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 lens on the full frame M240. I saw little real benefits over the full frame sensor as I use this lens all the time on the Leica CL too. (Note – there will be a difference but it was not noticeable enough for me to recognise an obvious change in the images I was making).

Leica CL Portrait - ISO 6400
Leica CL + Summilux 50mm f1.4
M240 and CL in Poland

In Poland using the Leica Summicron 90mm f2 lens on the Leica M240 and I could immediately see images that I’ve not seen from the Leica CL camera. This might be because I don’t use the 90mm Summicron lens a lot on the CL as I tend to use the smaller form Leica Macro-Elmar-M 90mm f4 lens to match the smaller camera body. (The Leica Summicron 90mm is my largest Leica lens).

90mm Summicron Headshot
Leica M240 + Summicron 90mm f2

The second lens for the Poland trip was the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 lens . I use the Noctilux 50f1 lens with the Leica CL and the M240 and results are certainly more apparent on a full frame sensor. *(I will share more sample images in the Poland model shoot blog to follow).

Leica Noctilux f1 Portrait
Leica M240 + Noctilux 50mm f1.0

In Summary – Leica CL vs M – Which to buy?

As a Leica photographer (for all digital photography + some film photography) I like a ‘good’ camera that helps me capture what I see. Ideally the camera will render a scene better than reality but that is more lens specific. My biggest niggle with Leica M camera system is the constant worry that the Leica rangefinder has been knocked out of alignment and that the camera is no longer focusing accurately. Even now as I write I need to send my Leica M240 back to Germany again to be re-calibrated. It’s third re-calibration I think. Ignoring that fact a purest will prefer a Leica M camera I think.

Biggest upside

The biggest upside of the Leica CL camera is I never have that concern. It is cheaper, lighter, easier to carry around, gives exposure preview, always accurate and the sensor has more dynamic range both in highlights and at higher ISO.

Noteable downside

The biggest drawback of the Leica CL is the crop sensor if you plan to use it with Leica M camera lenses like me. All lenses mounted are now 1.5x longer due to the crop factor. This might be a positive for some and I can usually work around this aspect but it is worth noting if you already own lenses. If you are a 50mm guy/ gal for example suddenly you will need a fast 35mm to replace your fast 50. (35 x 1.5 = 52mm). That’s why I love the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH lens so much (I need to post a new review on this lens soon with lots of example images!)

Leica CL + Voigtlander 35mm f1.2
Leica CL + Voigtlander 35mm f1.2
Full frame

A full frame sensor is arguably always going to capture nicer portraits vs. a crop sensor camera (whether 35mm cameras or larger film formats). Choice of camera will be impacted by what you plan to photograph. For travel photography the Leica CL is an absolute no brainer. For street photography I think most photographers would prefer the Leica M experience. With all that said even as a portrait photographer I can still make the Leica CL work for me.

Leica M10 vs M240
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YouTube Video – Leica CL vs M240

This video was shot when I was in Budapest and before I wrote this article. The video summarises most of what I’ve written here and there are a few visuals included to hopefully make it more value add.

Latest prices

To see the latest camera prices on Amazon I’ve linked them below.

Leica camera related posts

You may also like… What Gear I Use for Portraits!
  • My portrait photography lighting kit – HERE
  • My portrait photography equipment kit – HERE
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Author: matthewosbornephotography

Coventry, UK studio based Model and Wedding Photographer offering both Medium Format Film and Digital Images. 1-2-1 Photography and Lighting Tuition also available.

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